Dennis Vera ’19 places a priority on people, loves to socialize and has a deep love for family. She also refuses to give up.
These attributes serve her well when she mentors in local schools. Her service is part of the Bonner Scholar program, which awards scholarships to students with a passion for community service. She and two other Bonners expanded the Corazon Youth Mentoring program into a local middle school, and she is an ESL tutor at Richmond High School.
“I look at it more like I’ve never really helped someone,” she says. “I’ve guided them through a process by asking questions that will get them thinking.
“At Richmond High School, 75 percent of the ESL students are from Mexico. I came in as a translator and to help with homework. I can relate to them because we have the same story. For instance, there’s this girl, and she’s been here only four months. She’s far away from home, and she wishes she could be back home. It’s tough because you want to do something good, but one of our main values is family, being with family and being connected.”
Vera’s mother is a single-parent in Austin, Texas, raising five children. The other children are working to contribute to the family income and going to school.
“If I were still at home, I would be working a job and studying a little,” Vera says. “But when you do this you are not paying as much attention to your education. The solution is money, but there are different ways of looking at the situation. My mother needs help to raise five children, but I’m looking at it differently.
“It’s hard to explain but I’m getting ready to provide for my family on more of a long-term scale. My family is why I am here, for myself and for them.”
Vera remembers working fast food during high school and being at McDonalds as early as 4 a.m. to do homework because it had electricity and internet.
“I’ve had to learn things the hard way throughout my life,” she says. “I’ve come to realize that I can guide others through the process of dealing with high school and their economic situations. I let my socioeconomic situation define me for a while. You hear the stereotypes and you begin embracing them. There’s a better future and education is one of the keys. Because of my experience I can advocate for Latinos.”
During high school Vera received the President’s Volunteer Service Award for 1,000 service hours, part of which were at The Thinkery, a children’s museum. She was also named the Youth of the Year for North Texas at the Boys and Girls Club in Austin. From ninth through 12th grade, she also worked and coached at the National Hispanic Institute’s Great Debates.
As a first-generation college student, Vera is also a McNair Scholar, a program that helps prepare students who have traditionally been underrepresented in graduate studies for graduate school. McNair Scholars are required to complete a summer or semester-long research project. As a result of her mentoring experiences, Vera is interested in policies implemented in Indiana to help Spanish speaking students and adults.
She sees the importance of ESL courses and wants to implement changes to make them more successful.
“These students don’t know English as well, which makes it especially hard to keep their interest” she says. “Often, they don’t even show up to class. But leaders need to give them a story, something of interest, and they need to break things down, write sentences and work on pronunciation.
“I want to research how ESL teachers can best teach English using the policies that exist in Indiana.”
Vera, a Public Policy and Spanish double major, says her faith in God is a big part of who she is, and it helps her to keep working to overcome obstacles.
“My faith has taught me to be resilient,” she says. Because of her faith, Vera challenged herself to complete the Camino de Santiago 300-mile walking pilgrimage in Spain during an Earlham May Term.
“Not too far into it I thought I wouldn’t finish,” she says. “I really got to learn a lot about myself. I learned that I was the slowest walker. I realized that if I was going to get anything out of the experience, I could not compare myself to others. I needed to do it the way that best fits me. We all have talents that are specific to each of us.
“I believe in hard work and I love to talk to people. I will not give up. I honestly believe that there is nothing I can’t do. I prioritize people and social time, so I have to be careful about academics.”